TORONTO - Risotto is one of Curtis Stone's favourite dinner party entrees.
"While guests are all standing around in the kitchen having a drink with you, you're every now and then giving the risotto a stir," the chef said during a visit to Toronto to promote his new cookbook, "Good Food, Good Life" (Random House).
"So it's not one you make ahead of time and pull out of the oven — also great for dinner parties — but it's actually one you invite your good friends to, because you don't mind them sitting around the kitchen counter. You feel comfortable enough hanging out with them and finishing off the dish."
Stone notes that when risotto is the starring dish, it's important to have the table set and salad tossed. The only task remaining should be preparing the risotto. Allow about 45 minutes.
One reason Stone likes risotto, aside from its creamy consistency, is its versatility and economy. Because the rice is inexpensive, you can add something more luxurious, like lobster, shrimp or crab. Chicken legs, sausage or other types of meat can be browned in the pan first to add residual flavour to the completed dish.
If guests are of both persuasions —vegetarian and meat-eating — prepare the rice base to the point you're ready to add the other ingredients. Split it in two and finish each part as desired.
Risotto rice is cooked by the absorption method rather than by boiling or steaming. Stock is added gradually to the rice, slowly plumping up the grains. Simmering the risotto, not boiling, is essential to ensure a creamy yet al dente consistency.
"Can you just dump all the stock in at the start and let it cook out? Sure, and you'll end up with boiled rice instead of a gorgeous creamy risotto," said Stone.
The preferred rice is a short fat grain that is starchy and absorbs liquid slowly. Arborio is one of the most common types.
"The real essence to a great risotto is a good stock, decent wine," Stone said.
"The real mistake that people make is they buy cheap broth or cheap stock that can be really salty and then when you add it to the risotto, of course, your risotto is going to taste bad. A homemade stock makes the risotto absolutely sing."
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